“We heard from many seafarers, particularly those aged 35 and over, that they were not intending to return to sea once they eventually got home,” the report noted. “There is likely to be a growing shortfall in seafarers in the coming years.”

Getting back onboard with big bonuses

Flush with record-breaking pandemic profits, many shipping lines are trying to entice their workers to stay with one-time bonuses. Maersk, the world’s second largest shipping line, gave each of its 80,000 employees a flat bonus of $1,000. French shipping giant CMA CGM announced bonuses worth eight weeks’ wages. Korean shipping line HMM promised workers bonuses worth up to 6.5 times their monthly salaries, plus a 7.9% raise.

But bonuses were even bigger among shipping lines in Taiwan and China. Taiwanese shipping giant Evergreen set off a regional competition when it gave its workers bonuses worth as much as 40 months’ wages in December. In response, fellow Taiwanese shipping line Wan Hai raised its annual bonuses to total a full year’s wages plus $36,079 (that is, NT$1 million). Chinese state-owned shipping line Cosco responded by giving workers bonuses worth up to 30 months’ wages.

As word of the bonuses spread, Taiwanese shipping line Yang Ming tried to tamp down discontent among its workforce, which had only received bonuses worth eight months’ wages: “If everyone insists on comparing, I am afraid it will only cause unhappiness,” Yang Ming chairman Cheng Cheng-Mount said at a Jan. 5 press conference.

But, of course, seafarers have been comparing their wages to those earned by their peers on other cargo ships. And shipping lines have been highlighting pay disparities to poach workers from their rivals. In July, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), now the world’s largest shipping line, put out recruitment ads in South Korea to lure seafarers away from HMM with promises of $5,000 monthly wages (roughly 2.5 times what HMM pays). Hundreds of HMM sailors took the bait.

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